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Jon Jones is moving divisions, where does he stand at heavyweight?

Jon Jones
(Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

Jon Jones is moving divisions, where does he stand at heavyweight?

Jon Jones is planning on making his return to the UFC in the extremely interesting heavyweight division and will be put right into the complex title picture. Jones Tweeted on Saturday that he is looking to be in fighting shape by June or July this year, but does not have an opponent chosen yet.

The longtime UFC light heavyweight champion has not fought in the octagon in over two years with his last fight being a decision win over Dominick Reyes at UFC 247. The win over Reyes was Jones’s 11th title defense at 205 lbs in his two stints as champion which were separated by a suspension due to a positive test of a type of steroid. 

While the light heavyweight division has had consistency since Jones was stripped of the belt, the heavyweight division is in chaos after the current champion, Francis Ngannou, had surgery to repair a torn MCL and damaged ACL which will likely keep him out of action for roughly nine months. Ngannou became the heavyweight champion with a knockout win over Stipe Miocic in late March 2021. After becoming the champion Ngannou took some time off and an interim title fight took place between Ciryl Gane and Derrick Lewis.

Following the interim title win by Gane, a unification bout between Gane and Ngannou was arranged and headlined UFC 270 this past January. Ngannou won that fight by decision in an extremely surprising fashion by using his ground game to smother Gane. Now it looks like there will be another interim title fight at heavyweight while Ngannou recovers and Jones could very much be involved. 

The most logical fight for the interim belt may be between Miocic and Jones since the current #1 ranked heavyweight is Gane and he lost in his title shot last time out. Miocic is ranked #2 in the most recent UFC rankings and as far as Jones goes I have the feeling that the UFC wants to see its youngest ever champion return with a fight that could put him in line for a title shot. 

If only it was that simple. Fortunately for UFC fans, there is plenty of title-level talent at heavyweight which makes fitting Jones in more difficult. There are two fighters that have made quick moves up the rankings with big wins to kick off their 2022. Australia’s Tai Tuivasa is ranked #3 after he knocked out Lewis at UFC 271 in February, and England’s Tom Aspinall moved up to #6 with his submission win over Alexander Volkov at UFC London a few weeks ago.

Curtis Blaydes sits at #4 following his win over Chris Daukaus a week ago at UFC Columbus. Blaydes knocked down Daukaus with a right hook before finishing him on the ground to get the TKO victory. The win was a dominant one by Blaydes and kept his name in the title conversation. Blaydes is one or two wins away from having another shot at UFC gold. Ranked one place below is Lewis at #5. Three fights ago Lewis fought for the interim title and the loss to Gane started a cold slump that has seen him lose two of his three fights. Earlier this year he lost to Tuivasa in his hometown of Houston, TX. The all-time knockout leader is still always a threat to make a run back to a title fight.

One of the concerns I have for Jon Jones at heavyweight is how he will do against much more powerful fighters. The power that Lewis, Tuivasa, and Ngannou wield is much greater than what Jones had faced at light heavyweight. All three of those fighters and a few others have shown that it only takes one punch to end the fight and that is something Jones may have been taking time off to prepare for.

While the size and power may favor the current heavyweights, Jones may be able to use his quickness and strong wrestling to move toward heavyweight gold. Jones has not fought since 2020 but only has one loss on his record which came in 2009. After striking Matt Hamill with illegal downward elbows Jones was disqualified ending a nine-fight unbeaten start. “Bones” Jones has since gone 18 straight fights without losing to get a record of 26-1 (1) with the only blemish being a knockout win over Daniel Cormier that was ruled a no-contest after Jones tested positive for an anabolic steroid.

Jones will fit in the heavyweight division, but it may take some time for him to return to the championship level he was once fighting at. I think it would be better for him to have at least one fight at heavyweight before fighting Ngannou for the championship. If the heavyweight GOAT vs UFC GOAT fight with Miocic is not made there are a couple of other fights that make sense for Jones. 

Blaydes showed that he is still an elite fighter at heavyweight and could make for a very good fight with Jones. This fight would be very good to see how Jones compares to the top heavyweight contenders. There is also the slight possibility that Jones’s return to the octagon coincides with Ngannou’s return from injury. If this was the case it could make sense for Jones to fight for the belt immediately even though there are other fighters who may believe that they have earned their right to fight Ngannou again.

I would be all for a bracket-style tournament to organize the heavyweight division, but that likely will not happen. When all is said and done the fights to be made are Jones vs Miocic, Gane vs Blaydes, Tuivasa vs Aspinall, and Lewis vs the winner of Jairzinho Rozenstruijk and Marcin Tybura. The fight between Jon Jones and Stipe Miocic should be for the interim belt with the winner being next up when the champ returns.

Throughout his remarkable career, Jones’s worst enemy has always been himself since he has had numerous legal issues both in and out of MMA. Most recently Jones was arrested in September 2021 in relation to a domestic violence incident where he was charged with battery domestic violence and injuring and tampering with a vehicle. The battery charge was dropped in December. The arrest came after a high moment for Jones in which his fight with Alexander Gustafsson was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame.

If Jon Jones can keep his issues at bay he will be much more likely to make a run in the heavyweight division and possibly become the eighth fighter in the UFC to be a two-division champion which would be just another milestone in an outstanding MMA career.

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